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Red, white and proud

On the eve of Canada Day, culture supporters gathered in Ottawa for the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards

The lineup of 2017 laureates.

In Ottawa recently, with preparations well underway for Canada Day festivities to mark 150 years of confederation, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards celebrated its 25th anniversary. It was a two-day long celebration that recognized Canadian artists from a bevy of backgrounds, including music, theatre, dance, film and broadcasting, and one that also marked change – this was the first awards ceremony held in the newly revamped National Arts Centre and the seventh and last under the stewardship of The Right Honourable David Johnston.

On June 28, on the eve of the big show at the NAC, an intimate black-tie ceremony and dinner was held at Rideau Hall, the storied residence of the Governor General of Canada. While the show at the NAC is about lauding excellence in the performing arts with tributes and performances, the night at Rideau Hall gives the laureates a chance to speak in front of those closest to the cause. After an introduction by GGPAA Foundation chair Douglas Knight and foundation co-chair Paul-André Fortier, each laureate was presented to Johnston who bestowed them with their award medallion before inviting them to take to the podium inside the ballroom. Many, including Winnipeg-based entrepreneur and philanthropist William H. Loewen who received the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for voluntarism in the performing arts, chose to speak of their great love for Canada.

After the ceremony guests including past and present laureates took to the gardens for cocktails before a dînatoire was given in the Tent Room (built in the time of Canada’s third governor general, Lord Dufferin), and later, on offer were self-guided tours of a handful of the storied entertaining spaces within the residence. Marvellous grand portraits of Governor Generals past dot the walls of halls and reception rooms, and the greenhouse, where some headed to during the evening for a moment of solitude, is delightful.

At the National Arts Centre the following night, the second part of the two-day celebration kicked off with a reception for gala guests. Palpable in the room was the excitement for a first glimpse of the much talked about space. Returning co-chairs Salah Bachir and Kate Alexander Daniels were on hand with their respective partners Jacob Yerex and David Daniels, as was returning honourary gala chair Suzanne Rogers, who attended with husband Edward, Rogers Communication’s deputy chairman. I was a guest of this year’s presenting sponsor, Birks, who had a pair of tables in the salon room. Across from me sat Eva Hartling, VP of Birks Brand and CMO of Birks Group Inc., and Jeffrey Remedios, president & CEO Universal Music Canada, with his wife, gallerist Lucia. Seated nearby was the 138-year-old jewellery company’s president and CEO Jean-Christophe Bédos and his wife Arianna.

After dinner, but before being ushered into Southam Hall for the performances, I took a quick spin around the building and came across the NAC’s new light-filled addition. It is bright and built with the public in mind (there’s a coffee shop and a substantial staircase where informal performances will soon take place); it’s a sharp and welcome contrast to the brutalist brick fortress we’ve come to associate with the NAC. Gala guests who had the pleasure to dine in this new space had views of Parliament and the mounting excitement on the streets of Ottawa.

This year’s show was hosted once again by Colm Feore and the National Film Board produced mini-docs, which aired throughout the evening, were a highlight (they can be viewed on the NFB’s website). Joan Jett took to the stage alongside a guitar-in-hand Michael J. Fox, one of the evening’s honourees, to great ovation, and singer Michael Bublé, who received the National Arts Centre Award, was feted by former prime minister Brian Mulroney, who told the story of, alongside his wife, Mila, discovering Bublé while looking for an act for daughter Caroline’s wedding. Other recipients included theatre director Brigitte Haentjens, filmmaker Jean Beaudin, theatre artist Yves Sioui Durand and comedian Martin Short, and recognized as this year’s GGPAA mentorship program mentor and protégé were, respectively, Karen Kain (1997 NAC Award and 2002 GGPAA for lifetime achievement) and Robert Binet.

Also in attendance for the swish gala dinner and powerful performances: Adrian Burns, chair of the NAC Board of Trustees; former NAC board chair Julia Foster and her husband Robert, Capital Canada Ltd.’s president and CEO; west-coast big-givers Jim and Sandi Treliving; former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman and his wife Vicki; Marc Mayer, director of the National Gallery of Canada; Trinity, Consuelo and Victoria Jackman; Cleophee Eaton and her husband, artist Scott McFarland; the NAC’s long-time CEO Peter Herrndorf, and his wife Eva Czigler; film director Norman Jewison and his wife, Lynn St. David; comedian Rick Mercer; philanthropists Janice and Earle OBorn and Sandra and Jim Pitblado of Toronto and Ann McCaig of Calgary; and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

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